For the International Women’s Day, 2015, Elif Safak spoke in Keele University to a large number of audience, both staff and students, on ‘East, West, who needs feminism today?’ and answered questions, which was followed by a book signing session in a packed Keele Hall – Ball Room, Keele University, Newcastle-under-Lyme.
(Elif Safak signing her books and chatting with the readers)
Award-winning novelist, the most widely read woman writer in Turkey, and campaigner for social justice and women’s rights, whose Twitter feed is followed zealously by more than 1.6 million, opened this year’s International Women’s Day activities. In her inspiring and highly engaging talk, Safak covered a range of issues: from modern Turkey as highly complex and complicated, increasingly polarized and resolutely patriarchal; the city of Istanbul which defies easy categorisation, but is often the site of convergences between East and West; and to how writing in English does not pull her away from her roots in Turkey, ironically just the opposite, it brings her closer.
Named as “one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Turkish and world literature” her books have been published in more than 40 countries and she was awarded the honorary distinction of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. Safak has published thirteen books, nine of which are novels. She writes fiction in both Turkish and English. Safak blends Western and Eastern traditions of storytelling, bringing out the myriad stories of women, minorities, immigrants, subcultures, youth and global souls. Her work draws on diverse cultures and literary traditions, as well as deep interest in history, philosophy, Sufism, oral culture, and cultural politics. Safak’s writing breaks down categories, clichés, and cultural ghettoes. She also has a keen eye for black humour.
One of her latest novels, published in English, Iskender (Honour), has topped the best-seller lists and has been acclaimed by both critics and readers of various ages and backgrounds. The novel has opened up a vivid debate in Turkey about family, love, freedom, redemption and the construct of masculinity. It won the 2013 Prix Relay des voyageurs in France; was nominated for 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction and 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Safak holds a Masters degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science. Her thesis on “Islamic Mysticism and the Circular Understanding of Time” was awarded by the Social Scientists Institute. When teaching Near Eastern Studies and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona, Elif Safak acted as a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans (currently Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies). Safak’s non-fiction covers a wide range of topics, including multiculturalism, women’s empowerment, cosmopolitan encounters and the art of coexistence. Her articles regularly appear in some of the world’s most prestigious newspapers such as the Guardian, Independent, the Time Magazine and The New York Times.
Elif Safak’s talk was part of a day long event organized in the university by Keele’s Athena Swan committee. Other speakers were Becky Snape (a graduate student in Keele), Karen Hunt (Keele’s Professor of Modern History)and the Right Honourable Clare Short (former Minister for International Development).